July Newsletter

I went searching to see which writings I have not shared here before. I see that the newsletter article that I left for our congregation as James and I traveled to Baltimore for General Synod 31 was not among those posted. Even though this is late, with the message last week about being easily spooked and scared often, I decided this was still a timely piece. Hope it makes sense to some, and have a great day.

Greetings from Afar:
Ha! I will have left on our trip to the east by the time you read this. Hopefully when we finally return it will be with enhanced knowledge and more enthusiasm and, well, all those things you gain from a trip away. I moaned and groaned on the last Sunday in June about apps and uncertainties about details of the trip, but we took time on Tuesday to let Paulina do some downloading and James to make some phone calls, and things appear better. My big job before the take-off was to make sure everything would fit into the suitcase, which for me was the easy part. My family always jokes that if you need to fit an elephant into a hall closet call me. One of the things that I took time to down load onto my iPad besides the Synod App was a Bible. Finally the device is being used as it was intended. It has been interesting to read the scripture in this way, and I even found a version with the footnotes that I can click on to find which other verses relate to the one I am reading. Amazing thing! And much less weight in the carry on. Through this experience, I am again reminded of how selfish and non-productive it is to constantly be in a state of worry. In reality the more we worry and fret, the more we focus on ourselves and what is happening to us. Truly even when we think we are worrying about a loved one or a friend, in reality we are worrying about them because of how it will affect us. We must remember to give our cares to God and trust that we are loved and cared for in all things. Matthew 10:26-31 “…do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” See you soon. Pastor LuCinda

Message Aug. 13, 2017

The picture I am sharing with our message doesn’t really go with the message, it is just a picture of our church as we are having the doors repainted. The one to the left is with the openings boarded shut while the doors are being painted. The one to the right is the men after church working together to put the finished doors back in place. The ones boarded up sort of make the statement of locking people out of the building.

The scriptures used today were: Romans 10:5-15 and Matthew 14:22-33. The title was, “Depending on Christ.”

I have always enjoyed reading, and somehow, I never ever liked to read just a single book, I always wanted it to be a series that keeps going. When I was a young girl some of my favorite books were the Nancy Drew Mystery books. Lately I have been too lazy to read, but instead I enjoy watching the television mystery movies, you know the ones on the Hallmark Movie and Mystery Channel. Well at least I used to like them. The past month or so, I can’t seem to watch them start to finish because they scare me. I just don’t like the anticipation of when the killer is going to grab the one trying to solve the case. I know that in these shows the main character is not going to die, because that would end the series, but it scares me anyway.

And after watching them long enough, I hear things and get spooked. Some of you know me well enough to realize that I am sort of a spook anyway so I don’t really need any help with that. But I just do not need any more nights like the one last week when I was sure I heard something walking around on the porch outside my bedroom. If there was something out there, and I am pretty sure I found the proof of cat spray on the upper deck Thursday. Seriously nothing bigger than a cat is going to get up there without the one sitting in the chair downstairs noticing anyway.

So, the point is that we all have things that scare us. Anyone of us in this building can likely come up with a list of time in their lives when they were frightened, and probably a list of things that scared them. I tried to think of a chronological list of things that have scared me over the year, and this is what I have today. As a young girl on the farm, I was scared to go to the basement to get the ice cream. When I had to go there, I would make sure that my back was always to the wall so that no one could be looking in the windows without me seeing them or so that no one could come out of the cellar and grab me. I either had a great imagination or read too much. Of course some of that might have come from older relatives who were really good at driving fear into all of us.

So, maybe as we get older, we are no longer afraid of the dark or the proverbial “Boogie Man,” but our fears do not necessarily go away. They change. Starting school for some children brings on separation fear from being away from their home and family. Of course school itself can be a scary place, especially when you have a test and are not sure if what you studied was the right information, I think I had more of those issues the older I got. Or what about when you join an athletic team or worse yet, when you coach one? Will the game plan you practiced be the right one for this particular opponent? That fear might explain why I prefer track over team sports. And there are the other things like fear of fitting in with your classmates or others in the school and on and on.

As we grow into adulthood, take jobs and leave home to start families of our own, fears change to include thoughts of job performance, co-worker acceptance, how you are treated by the boss. And then there are children and how we spend our time fearful of all the things that can happen to them: illness, accidents, peer pressure, and the list goes on. My oldest daughters love to tell the story of how I always scared them into staying in the yard when we lived a few miles out of Jamestown. We lived on a gravel road just off Highway 281, that goes from Jamestown to Aberdeen. They always wanted to drive their bikes to the stop sign. I forbid them from doing that alone; first off some of the drivers on our road were pretty speedy and might have hit them. The other issue was that it was a major highway, and it was fairly close to the time when the Wettering boy was abducted in Minnesota.

The older I get, the better I understand the why of some of my fears, and many of them are not so scary anymore. But, I don’t think I will ever get over the depression era mind-set and the fear that goes with it that I learned growing up as the oldest grandchild, sitting around the evening coffee table with my grandmother and her sisters and though the talk might have been about other things, the underlying theme of finances, and getting by, and how to make do with what you have, was always there. We have gardens today because we like the taste of fresh produce and the knowledge of how it has been raised. They had gardens to make sure there would be something to eat. That was a completely different mindset and the knowledge of that puts a different sort of fear into the back of one’s mind, and it hangs with you.

With all of that in mind, I want to tell you that I found out this week that because of my fears, my chances of living to a fairly old age are pretty strong. I was on one of those internet news feeds and read a headline that said, “A telltale trait of a long life” I had to tap in and find out and what it was…ironically it is worrying. People who worry who have anxiety about things are likely to live longer than those who don’t really care. To me it sounds odd; wouldn’t worriers be more likely to develop medical issues? Apparently that wasn’t an issue. I read on to see if people who worry are less likely to take stupid chances so then have fewer accidents. Actually the article didn’t really confirm or deny that thought, and it really didn’t have a good reason why it is true, but for some reason of all the people they surveyed in that study, the worriers lived longer.

Maybe the disciples would have liked to hear about that survey, and then they could have come back to Jesus with a good reason for their concerns. They could have at least said their fear, their worry, was keeping them alive longer. Because, as you can see from today’s gospel lesson, they sure knew how to worry and fret.

Our story today picks up right after the feeding of the 5,000 and the disciples have gone out in the boat while Jesus went up the hill to be alone and pray. While they are on the boat, the wind picks up and there is a rough storm. As we read this, some of you might have thought of the other time when the disciples were out on the water during a storm. In that other story, Jesus was sleeping at one end of the boat while the storm is going on. If you remember that story, the disciples were getting pretty frantic and when they couldn’t handle the boat alone, they finally went to Jesus and woke him, and he stood up and told the wind to stop and the waves to quit and it they obeyed him and it was all still. If we read this right, that story, that other story with Jesus in the boat with them that happened first. It already happened. The disciples have already experience what Jesus can do when he is in the boat with them. They know his power, but they also know that this time they are alone. He isn’t here with them on this trip, and it is bad, and they don’t know what to do.

Oh but look up and who is coming towards them, walking across the water?  It is Jesus. Here while they are again frantic about the wind and the waves and they are alone, and by the way, it is dark. They look out across the sea, and good grief here comes a figure walking towards them. OK I am not sure about you, but I am not really that far away from the little girl who turned her back to the wall while she carried the ice cream up the steps. I am not sure how I would react to seeing someone or something walking across the water towards that boat. Yet as fearful as they might be, they recognize Jesus and Peter asks to walk with him, and for a bit he does, and pretty soon they are both in the boat, and the storm stops.

Do you get what happens? We read it here as a historical event, as a thing that happened. Jesus walked towards them, across the stormy sea and when he gets into the boat, the storm quits. Now let’s look at this in the metaphor it is for us today, and for the disciples in their day, but mostly for us now.

When Jesus gets into the boat, the storm stops.

This is what our message today is all about. Our title today might say “Depending on Christ” and that is all well and good, but the bottom line, the thing we need to take away with us is this: When Jesus gets into the boat with us, the storm stops.

I know it is not always that simple, but you know what? It really is that simple. It really is. Maybe the person we care about is still sick, or the problems of our life are still there, but when we invite Jesus into our boat, and we let him be the number one in the boat, in our lives, then the storms do stop. The problems of life are still there, but somehow the way we accept them and tolerate them is different, and that is what we need to understand from this story. If we get nothing else today, let’s go from here with the understanding that we won’t go sailing until we invite Christ into the boat. Amen!!

Message on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017

Here is the message the people heard today, well at least this is the script of what was out there for today. I may just have gone off script a few times today, but that is how it goes and I am not going to try to replicate the real words here. This is what was intended and this is what you get in print. The scriptures used were: Isaiah 55:1-5, Romans 9:1-5 and Matthew 14:13-21. The title was, “God’s food.”

This weekend was the big city-wide rummage sale in Herreid. As we were getting items ready, which involved dragging boxes of mostly clothing out of nooks and crannies and sorting them then washing, hanging on the line and folding up everything that was deemed sellable, I finally looked at James and asked, “Why do people have children?” You might think this question has nothing to do with a rummage sale, but for me it is a central issue. At that point of the week, I came to realize that I have saved almost every item of clothing that my children ever owned. Seriously, if it didn’t wear out it is probably some place in my house, and let’s not even talk about their toys. I am not quite that far yet. It is no wonder there isn’t any room to live in our house!

Probably one of the most revealing things about me is something I remembered as I was going through the boxes and sorting and trying to figure out how I got to this hoarding life-style. I remembered back to a day when we still lived on the farm and I was some place in that older childhood, pre-teenage existence. It was a day when my mother was “cleaning house.” I remember having to take a box out to the burn barrel and seeing several of my dolls on the ground beside it about to be burned up. Now I did not see that dolls for the broken, hair cut, unclothed used up toys that they were. I only saw the beautiful gift they had once been.

That day, I wanted so badly to pick them up and take them back into the house and hold them and fix them, but there was nothing I could do, there was no undoing the damage that was done, and they were gone. Mostly I try not to think about those sort of days, but sometimes, like on Thursday when I was cranky from being over tired from doing something you I don’t really enjoy and probably would not have to do in the first place if I had just gotten rid of things when I should have, then maybe those memories would not rise to the top of the play list and I would not feel all those old emotions.

Yet for me as I considered those emotions and pondered the message that we were about to consider for this week, I tried to imagine what Jesus must have felt like in the story that we are dealing with today. The opening line of that story seems to me to be the key for today’s message those words of verse 13: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place.” Hold that thought—that emotion for a bit.

The gospel lesson for today has to be one of the top 10 most recognized Bible stories. It is in all four gospels, and I can remember back to teaching Sunday School that even at the youngest levels there were lessons about the little boy who offered his loaves and the fishes to the disciples who then gave them to Jesus who multiplied them in such quantity that all were fed and there was plenty left over.

I don’t know exactly how many times I have done a message on this text in the past, but I know we have talked about it here, and I remember speaking on it in both Jamestown and Mobridge. If we look at it alone, just in terms of the story of the miracle of feeding so many people, 5,000 not counting women and children according to Matthew, with only two loaves and five fish it is an amazing story of the divinity of Christ. And that is a wonderful story. It is a great message, but after hearing that often enough and speaking that often enough, we have to ask if there is more to the meaning of this lesson. We have to ask if there could possibly be something else in this scripture besides this historical account of what Jesus did in that remote area on that day when all those people came hungry for the words of Jesus and then were satisfied with the food that God provided in that remote area? Are you starting to get ahead of me a little? I hope so.

Well, of course there is more to the story. All we have to do to find out the more is look back a few verses to see what was going on before this story. The opening verse of today, Vs. 13 when it says “when Jesus heard this…” the word this refers to the death of John the Baptist. It was after Jesus learned of his death: the prophet who pointed the way of his coming, the man who baptized him, the one that was chosen in the womb to proclaim “repent for the time of God is at hand” when Jesus learned of John’s death, he took some time to go away to a deserted place presumably in hopes of being on his own.

In our lectionary cycle for this year, we don’t read that story of John’s death, yet if we listen to those words from Matthew 13, it is a big part of what was going on with Jesus. It is such a big deal that he leaves the city for a remote area to be alone with his closest disciples. But he can’t get away because the crowds follow him. They just can’t get enough of him. These crowds of ordinary, everyday people, people like you and me were hungering and thirsting for more lessons from the young itinerant religious leader who seemed to have something new, something amazing, something that would fill them to the brim with knowledge about God and God’s kingdom that no one else had ever shared with them, and they just couldn’t get enough.

And I wonder how much different are we than the people of Jesus’ time? Think about this, we, too, look for leadership in the times of our state and national elections. We long for someone to rise up locally and help our communities grow in amazing ways. We want someone to come to where we are and tell us which direction to go, to lead us into something new and fulfilling and yes maybe profiting, but mostly exciting and satisfying. Yes, we too are hungering and thirsting for something good, something new, something wonderful to follow, and for some of us the new is right in front of us, right in our pews in our hands when we open the words that God—that Christ left for us. We just need to listen to it, maybe in new ways.

Jesus didn’t send the people away when they followed him to the deserted place. He understood their need for his word and he took the time to talk to them, and to heal their sick. When it was late and time to eat, he didn’t tell the disciples to send them off to find their own food, he saw the need and he filled it. He had compassion on the crowd, he realized their need, and he fulfilled it. That might be all we need to know about the love of Christ.

If we look at the words from Isaiah and the opening line says: come to the waters…come buy and eat. It feels to me like those words are being spoken by Christ directly to us. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price…Listen carefully to me and eat what is good food. I know that I am only picking certain lines from the passage, but essentially these are the words from Christ to us… He is calling us to come and be fed, come and be satisfied with his teachings and his love.

Everyone who thirsts, we are all thirsty for the love and the teaching, for the healing and the compassion of Christ. Imagine where we would be if Christ just took his sad emotions and went to the deserted place and stayed alone. Christ didn’t come to earth for that. Christ came to have compassion on the crowds, on all of the crowds, those of his day and those of us right here today. Christ didn’t look at the situation in front of him with no idea where to turn like that sad 10 year old who was standing beside the burn barrel wondering how to reconcile the idea of knowing her dolls were being burned.

Fortunately for us all, Christ looked at this world created by God and corrupted by sin and he said, “Yes I will, pick me, and I will do what is needed to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be reconciled to God.” With that as our example, I don’t know how we can do anything less than have compassion on the crowds of humanity who are hungering and thirsting to hear God’s word and feel Christ’s love. Let’s be sure we take the time to share what we know about that with those around us this week and in all weeks to come. Amen

Message July 30

The scriptures were: Romans 8:26-39 and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. It was another week of parables about planting, so my title was, “Another Sowing Parable.”

Before we get started, I need to apologize for failing to tell you last Sunday that I was planning to be out of town all week. I went with James, this year, to the coaches’ clinic in Bismarck. There was a session on a new piece of technology and he wanted me there to get the information on it. It was good, and there were lots of interesting sessions, but I hope that I will not have to go away overnight again this summer. I am good with staying home and getting things done around here and around home.

Our sessions included information about coaching ethics and philosophy and not just specific techniques, which was interesting for a change. One of our final presenters, a coach from Billings, MT, who did three of the four last hours, gave us his dilemma of walking into a team with absolutely no discipline. It seemed that for many years prior to his coming to West Billings High School, no one cared about the track team, as in no one—not administration, not parents and especially not students or even the track athletes.

After he took the job, he found out that they really were at the bottom of the proverbial sports’ totem pole in their school. The first thing he learned was that they didn’t have a budget, so no equipment purchases and don’t think about purchasing any other sort of things like meals for the meets. He fixed that with a fund raiser. On one of the first bus rides to a meet one of the athletes asked who would be next year’s coach. It was then he learned that before him no one coached there for more than one year, and because of it the athletes did whatever they wanted. In fact, everyone kept telling him not to get worked up because it was “just track.” I don’t think the schools of Eureka or Herreid would understand that idea. We have never been like that.

His point was that discipline and expectations are very important to building a program that will be successful, and then that success carries itself. He decided early on in his time there that he wasn’t going to be there for only one year, and that he wanted to build something that the student athletes were going to buy into and something they would work as hard at as he would.

He was asked to speak at the clinic because he has had a team win the Montana State AA title for 7 of the 12 years that he has been there. And on the other years, they were pretty much second or third. I forgot to write down how many times they have been 2nd or 3rd.

I think his belief that children need discipline and need to buy into a program has done wonders for their teams. Lately, the more news I watch and the more I pay attention to certain local politics, the more I realize how important discipline and following some sort of rules would be good for all of us. Enough said on that.

The reading that we had in Romans today, at least the ending part, might seem familiar to us. I am sort of hoping that it becomes less and less familiar to us, but … Those words are found in our bulletins when we have a funeral. The last verses of Romans 8 are the final part of that affirmation of faith that we read together following our funeral messages, before the final song and benediction. As a public affirmation, we read these words and if we believe, really believe what we are reading, we are telling everyone around us that we have bought into the message that Jesus brought to earth from God, which is that we are loved and accepted and wanted. We have importance. We are children of God and nothing will keep us away from his love, his acceptance, his family.

But what about the words we keep reading in the 13th chapter of Matthew? What about those parables about sowing and plants growing and good seed and bad seed? What about that idea that on the last day, the weeds will be torn from the good grain and sent to the fire to be burned. One of the commentaries that I read last week said that was a much easier concept for the people of our frontier to grasp than it is for us. If any of you have read the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you might remember the book called, The Long Winter. In it we read how they were out of fuel in the middle of that winter during a horrible blizzard, and they went to the barn and kept twisting hay and putting it into the wood burning stove to keep themselves from freezing. Having some extra weeds around to burn would have been a great luxury in those days.

So who are these weeds and who are these seeds that grow up to be the good crop? How does this difference happen? In today’s gospel lesson the parable is about a useless seed, a little tiny mustard seed that in the days of Jesus had no purpose, yet it grows up to be something of great importance that houses many of the birds of the air. It seems to be telling us that even what we think is nothing can become something. It seems to be saying that the least of these are important. Could it be telling us that we too are important? Could it be saying that even if we feel mostly inadequate, we are somebody in the eyes of God? Maybe we are supposed to connect them to other Bible stories of how the last will become first and the first will become last? Perhaps that is something for us to study in our age of importance and entitlement.

But what about the rest of the parables, those little incidental phrases near the end of this passage? The themes of those seem to be that the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that is worth more than anything else we could ever have or ever want. Jesus is telling us that no matter what we have or want to have on this earth, nothing can ever compare to what we can have in the kingdom of heaven, in God’s kingdom. And the underlying message of that is sort of the opposite, the converse. It is the idea that we should strive for what we gain in the kingdom of heaven, not what we gain in this kingdom. In other words, what we do here—on this earth—should be in an effort to build up mansions in the great beyond, not mansions on this earth where things don’t last. We need to be buying into the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom on earth. Sort of gives you a different perspective on saving for retirement. Perhaps this is a different kind of 401K.

And what about the things we talked about a few weeks ago when I said, and I saw some of you agreeing, that we need to be about more than just sitting around waiting for the day when we join the kingdom of heaven?  Yes, we do need to be about more as a congregation and as individual Christians; we need to be active in spreading the gospel and loving our neighbors and caring for the world around us, “A Just World for All” and all of that stuff, but just doing that doesn’t make or break it in terms of getting us to the kingdom of God. We can’t ‘good works’ our way in, we can’t buy our way in, we can’t sing or teach or preach our way in, we all know that.

Paul in Romans 8:38-39 says there is nothing, nothing at all that can keep us apart from the love of God. Then how is it that there still are weeds that get pulled away from the good crops and thrown into the final fire? The fact is, there is nothing outside of ourselves that can keep us from God. It is what is on the inside that determines where we go on the day of dividing. It is what we believe, where our faith lies that makes the difference for us when our time here is over. All God asks is that we believe, that we believe in him, in his Son and accept the Holy Spirit into our lives to guide us and help us through all that we face. Will we be perfect at all times, of course not, we are human. But by following the words of Jesus, who says, “we are to love God with all our heart and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.” If we do that then when our day comes, nothing will be able to keep us from that love that God offers us, which means on that day, that wonderful day; we will see Christ in Paradise.  And, as long as we can buy into that faith—that wonderful faith in Christ, I don’t think there is anything we can’t accomplish. Amen!

Message from July 16, 2017

Following is the message from this past Sunday. The scripture focus was Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23,  and Isaiah 55:10-13, though I backed up and started from verse 6. Also read was Romans 8:1-11, but I did not reference that one in the message. The title was, “Open to the Word.”

Our message from Matthew is one of Jesus’ parables and should be a fairly familiar one for us. I am sure we all remember the parable of the sower, but the truth is the point that Jesus makes is not about the sower, it is about the soil that receives the seed. The  story is really about how we as the hearers accept the words that Jesus offers. The point of the lesson today is if we are open to God’s words.

In the parable of the sower—the one who scatters the seeds—is Christ, or at the least someone working on behalf of Christ, perhaps his disciples, or maybe, hopefully even one of us in today’s world. The seed is the word of God, the gospel, the teachings of Jesus. The soil—and this is the variable part of the story/the soil—is the one to whom the word is spoken, and scary but here is probably where we can say, this is us.

In the first case, the seed doesn’t even have an opportunity to take hold. The word goes out to this person, but before it can even enter the mind of the listener something interferes, as the writing here says, the powers of evil causes a distraction and takes away the message. Perhaps this is the person who doesn’t even find an opportunity to become part of a faith community, the second seed, the one that falls on rocky soil sprouts, but because of the lack of roots, it withers and dies. According to the explanations of the parable, these are the people who hear the words of Jesus and get all excited about it, but they either don’t know how to nurture this new found joy. Or maybe they do find a church home, perhaps they even join a congregation of believers, but they just are not able to get that involved. There are just too many things that pull them away from any commitments of any kind and so they just are not able to follow Jesus as he would have them do. Either way, these two types of seeds, these two types of potential believers produce nothing.

If you are talking strictly seeds and growing, we have some peas that fit the bill of either of the first two situations this year. James thinks those that would be of the first type were likely pulled out by one of those pheasants that lives in the hay field across the dike between us and the creek. He probably snuck up over the dike for a snack, but was disturbed before he could get all of the seeds. He scratched them out, but didn’t have time to eat them all. Those that weren’t eaten up lay on the top of the soil and because they had a little moisture and a lot of heat they germinated, but they were not in the soil far enough to take root and grow. The bottom line is that there are no plants, and no peas from these seeds.

The cosmos acting as weeds in the vegetable garden.

The third type of seed falls on good soil, but for whatever reason all sorts of weeds grow up with it. I can really relate to that business this year with our garden and all of the extra volunteer plants. As you noticed coming through the door this morning and with what is on display up front here, we have been busy pulling out lots of extra cosmos and anyone who wants some are certainly welcome to take what they want. If someone wants some but doesn’t want them today, let’s talk and I can arrange something for you later because I have this feeling we will need to take out more this week. The cosmos and the other volunteer plants that we have like the pumpkin and the sunflowers are all pretty harmless. We might consider them weeds simply because they are in the wrong place, but the way weeds is used in the scripture lesson today the meaning is more of a noxious plant. We are to understand that this plant is not good for any reason at all.

In fact, according to the Tyndale commentary, the worst sort of weeds in the days of Jesus was a very poisonous plant that looked much like the wheat plants, but with a much stronger root. Let’s consider that in terms of the metaphor that this parable seems to be. If the actual weed is poison, the symbolic weed is a person who is poison, or a situation that is poisonous. The seed in this case is someone who hears the word, and it takes root in them, and they are growing and flourishing maybe even as part of a church congregation, but they are also surrounded tightly by bad influences. They are tangled up with people and situations that are “poisonous.” The explanation says that they are so much a part of the world that they cannot live their lives as Christ would have them live.

Now in essence that could be anyone of us. We are here, we are believers, we participate in our congregation, yet we are still part of the secular world. I think the hardest part for me in this area is that I leave here on Sunday mornings, or Wednesday evenings as the case may be, and I drive out of town. And I will be honest; sometimes I forget where I have just been and what I have been doing. And sometimes, I just plain act like these are two different lives, and they are not, and I need to stop thinking that way. Maybe if I would get off my lazy couch and contact the conference office about going into what they call discernment and taking steps towards full ordination, maybe then I will begin to see my life, as really being here as a permanent commitment and not just a temporary thing like others jobs I have had.

The final part of the seed story is about when the seed falls on the good soil and it sprouts and grows and is harvested with very good yields. This is the soil that I am thinking we all want to identify as being. We come here each week listening to the stories of Christ and the word that God has for us, we participate in the liturgy and the music and the prayers, we put our offerings in the collection plate hoping that it helps someone who is really in need and then we leave with the idea of facing another week of sharing what we know with those around us in whatever way we can. That is what the good soil is about in this story of the sower. We know that, and I feel pretty confident is saying that we all want to be that.

But maybe we want to ask if there is more than just the soil and the seeds. Is there more than just the word or the message being spoken to fall where it may fall? We know that sometimes growth and harvest is connected to the elements as much as to the soil. This year is our area we all know what farming in a drought it all about. Now more than ever it is important to keep vigil, to take steps of precaution, to use good practices that protect what is already growing be it crops or animals. I go outside into the garden and look at the parched soil, and it doesn’t matter how much water we pour on to it at 6 a.m., by 10:30 parts of it are powder dry. And some days I catch myself asking if there is a connection between the physical drought and a spiritual drought, like there was a connection in the parable. I don’t have that answer. But, I do not believe that God sends drought to punish us. You know that old statement of: well they get rain because they live right.

Jesus wants us to all be the good soil that accepts the seed/the word of God. Jesus wants us to grow amid a field of fellow believers and produce an abundant harvest. Maybe our question today should be: what is that harvest? Is it simply more members in our pews? Or maybe it is a continuation of being the ones who share Christ’s love with those around us whether they are right here in our community or someplace around the globe. Maybe our harvest is as simple as sharing a “cup of water,” in the form of a bag of school supplies, a tub of items for the home, a financial donation to someone in need, a quilt for a college student or a …. You fill in the blank, and let me know sometime what it is you would put there. Amen!!

First message after Synod 31

Today was the first Sunday back from General Synod 31. The scriptures used were Romans 7:15-25a and  Matthew 11:16-19 & 25-30. The title in the bulletin was, “Our Challenge.” Below is what they heard or as close as the script can get us. I know that I was off it a few times.

When we stepped off the plane in Aberdeen and finally outside of the terminal with our suitcase in hand and carry-ons on our backs, we were hit squarely in the face by some pretty oppressive heat. When I sat down to pull this message together I was hit squarely in the heart with the notion that this wasn’t going to be a one morning message. And I promise, we will do this is stages because there is just so much material.

We left Baltimore trying to remember and hold close all the things we had done and experienced. Before I get too far here, the scripture passage of the week was Psalm 46, and the theme was Make Glad. We will hear that scripture before we leave, and the logo is on the front of our bulletin. While in Baltimore we spent time in meetings at least I did, time on the water front, sometimes eating together with the other representatives from South Dakota, some breakfast meetings with SD, Iowa and Nebraska, sometimes eating alone just the two of us. We listened to presentations, debates, heard messages, participated in music, and saw and met people from places all over the country and even the world. We had group discussions and quiet one-on-one talks, and then finally we boarded the plane for home.

In those few short hours (6:25 a.m. Eastern Time to 12:28pm Central Time—7 hours when you count the time change) we tried to absorb and synthesize or maybe the word here really should be metabolize all that we had done and seen and been a part of. The truth is I still don’t really know what happened there. [What in the world just happened there?] I watched a clip on U-tube of the Sunday, July 2nd worship service, and I seriously began to wonder if I had accidentally missed a session. Finally, I realized that by sitting in the visitors section with James that afternoon, we missed some of the action up in the front. And the more I dig around on the website news, the more I realize that we each saw Synod 31 from our own perspective, and what is on the news feeds was not necessarily the same view-point that I had from my spot in the South Dakota delegates section off to the far left side of the stage.

In coming back James and I landed on a hot Wednesday afternoon and drove another two hours to home. You all know what that is like around here. No one in this part of South Dakota gets off a plane and is home in half an hour. We got off the plane and drove home to find life of a different perspective. There was a garden to tend, a garden that though Paulina did her best to keep watered, needs lots more watering if anything at all is going to grow. It also needs some serious weeding, to which Dan can attest from when he stopped by on Thursday. Right now the plants that should thrive are sharing with those that should not, and then there are those lovely cosmos that according to James are weeds this year. And they are all over the place, and my reaction is, “How do we dare pull them out?” And as we look around the rest of the yard and inside the house we find more and more and more that should be done before it is time for fall and our sort of harvest and school beginning and I just want to get back on that plane and forget about all the things there are to do around here, and then I consider what we as a church need to do.

Some of you may have heard me say that last Sunday in June that we are at the 60th Anniversary of the United Church of Christ and we should have done something about that on that Sunday, but I figured we could do something later this summer. I don’t think we are going to talk about that in terms like you do most anniversaries where you look back to where we started and discuss the past. I think if nothing else, attending this Synod, going through these sessions and meeting these people has made me realize that the past is there to shape who you are today, not to dwell in. The past is what develops us, but we can’t get stuck in it. We need to live in the here and now and we need to put our face to the future.

Maybe if you think about it that is what caused the death of Lot’s wife, she refused to give up the past; she wasn’t willing to look to the future. Interestingly if you look closely at the history of our denomination, you see a people who has always been looking to the future, and if we want to be a congregation that doesn’t turn into a pillar of salt like Lot’s wife, we too need to turn our faces forward to the future. Jesus as he was speaking in the passage we read for today was lamenting the generation of his time. He spoke of them as whining children for whom nothing was ever good enough or right. Jesus wants more from us, Jesus wants us to stand up and act, to do what we can while we can. And if we listened to the ending of this reading for today we hear that going to Christ will give us help, he will teach us what we need to know and gives us rest for our souls.

One of the most exciting things that came from this Synod was not something that was debated or resolved or voted on. It was the new purpose statement and its initiative that was announced by the General Minister Rev. John C. Dorhauer.

It came about from the surveys that members of the church were asked to complete last year. I know that at least a few of us in our church did them. At first I was confused when I saw it written, but on Monday morning he came to our breakfast caucus to talk to just us. Caucus was South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. I kept thinking that this affected our motto which is: That they may all be one. It has not and that has not changed, but for the next two years we will be working, and by we I mean us too because you will probably laugh with me when you hear the purpose and the three initiatives that go with it because it will be easy for us.

The purpose statement is based on the Greatest Commandment as Jesus told it in Matthew 22:37-39: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul and mind, and the second… to love your neighbor as yourself. This will be enacted through the 3 great loves initiatives, the 3 great loves call to action. They are: love of children, love of neighbor and love of creation. (Show the t-shirt) How easy will that be for us? We already do these things. Here is where I must have been asleep or talking to those around me during Rev. Dorhauer’s Saturday morning presentation. This is what I found on the news portion of the national website. Yet when I got to the ending of this reading, I remembered what he said as he wrapped up his message to us.

I read a portion of the what I found on the UCC website under news about General Synod. It talked about three initiatives that the church will be involved in including: drives to donate to those living in shelter, school supplies for children and a walk at the next General Synod to raise awareness for the earth. He noted that there is a website to keep track of this and they will be collecting stories about how we are all participating. He invited us to sign up at the exhibit hall and I told the congregation that I must have missed that booth and wondered if they didn’t have chocolate there which would have made me miss it. HA! One last piece from that article had Dorhauer saying, “As disciples of the Risen Christ, we call ourselves to embody love and incarnate justice.”

Maybe I sound like I have jumped on a bandwagon, and you might be sitting in the pew thinking, oh no, or why us? I know that I am a skeptic and probably would be thinking that about now. And maybe we might be thinking what does this justice stuff have to do with us around here? We certainly aren’t going to go around marching with posters and banners and acting like a bunch of radicals. Does anyone remember the final verses that I added the last Sunday of June because I wouldn’t be here last week? Those last words were: Matt. 10:42 “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” That is justice work!

I would like to take the next 2 months the rest of July and all of August to listen to some of your ideas. Give me some ideas of things that would interest you to do. It certainly could be things that we have been doing, or something new, or a different way. Or tell me what you don’t particularly like. I will listen, I will take phone calls, notes, emails and I will put them together to see what shows up the most or the least. I want to be able to put together some ideas for the first Sunday in Oct., and by the Oct board meeting maybe we can discuss a plan for some future missions/some justice tasks.

Let me just close by reading Psalm 46.

I finished by giving them this line. Churches are reaching out to those in need of being churched because they are willing to be the river that flows through the heart of the people to make glad the city of God. Let us be that river here. Amen!!

Happy Mother’s Day Message

I was pondering not putting this message on the blog, but I guess…. First off, I messed up the scriptures when I went to put the message together. I was in II Peter rather than I Peter as the lectionary suggested. Next I may have talked about my own family in ways that might not be appealing to all. Fortunately I tend to go off script, so what is here was not exactly what they heard. Let’s just say we had a jovial time again this morning and most of it was because I shared the truth about my own life. May you find some spark of truth and a real message in this, mixed up as it might be.

The scriptures for today were listed as: Acts 7:55-60, I Peter 2:1-10 (actually based it on II Peter 2:1-10) and John 14:1-14. Our title was, “Honoring Mothers.”

Let’s just start with what to me was the obvious oxymoron here today. When I opened up the desk calendar in the office and looked at the lectionary suggestions, I was a little stunned. I don’t understand fully how the powers that be don’t do some coordinating between the secular calendar year and the scriptures of the lectionary. This is Mother’s Day for goodness sakes and the scripture lessons somehow don’t seem to have anything at all to do with anything about honoring your mother. The verses in the gospel of John are more likely to be something you would hear at a funeral, and the writings in I Peter are instructions to tell Christians how to keep away from those who would lead you astray and the story in Acts is just too gruesome to even think about. Stephen who was not even one of the inner circle of disciples in his zeal to share the story of Christ ends up as the first martyr when a mob stones him while Saul AKA Paul watches in approval.

Actually, one of the first times I ever used the John 14 verses at a funeral was at Verna Schock’s, and I thought I was going to NOT like the one daughter-in-law very much. I wanted to read verses 1-6 or even to 7, but she told me I had to stop at verse 3. Interestingly as I was checking the “sermon seeds” in my email for this week, the write-up mentioned that too many people take this passage and only focus on verse 6. So, it got me to looking at the whole thing, especially the opening a bit closer. And there it is in the opening three verses, we hear those final words, the final instructions that Jesus is giving to his disciples before he leaves them, and here is where we can begin to realize the thread between these stories and this celebration of mothers.

First off before we go any further with this, let’s just stop and remember that in some of our past discussions, I have noticed that our wider church is more likely to set today as a celebration of the family, not just the mothers. Personally, I am ok with having a day for Mothers and another for Fathers. It gives a second opportunity for children to be guilted into remembering all the things their parents have ever done for them. I mean really in some homes everyday is children’s day. I am pretty sure if you check with my oldest two daughters that was not the case at our house, at least not where I was involved. But on the other hand they will be sure to tell you that things changed when the third one came along. Let me just say the jury is still out on how things will work for them with their children. For now I am noticing that there is little to no grown up television or movies to be seen when you enter their homes, and even Jessica has started checking in with cartoon channels while she is feeding and rocking one of the twins. Not so much at Grandma’s house.

One more personal note then I will get back to the lessons from the scriptures. This past Thursday I found a pair of matching coffee mugs that I just had to buy for those two “slighted” daughters. The writing on the side said, “Sometimes when I open my mouth, my mother comes out.” I believe they will notice that more and more as they age, whether they like it or not, many of us have been there for me it is more and more each day.

So what is the thread of Motherhood and mothers that comes from these scripture lessons. The one in second Peter could almost be compared to a mother lecturing her teenager as he or she is walking out the door. Last night was prom in Linton and we drove up to watch grand march. We attended somewhat because my niece Elisabeth was in it since her boyfriend is from there, and we also went as coaches just to let them know we are aware of where they are and that we are thinking of them. There were no lectures in practice on Friday, but plenty on Monday when they had their Jr/Sr banquet and that is sometimes reason for concern.

Some people might think that children/teenagers should be allowed to make their own decisions and especially their own mistakes. I would rather go along with the words of Peter as he spoke to the early Christians telling them about the false teachers that will try to infiltrate them, and how God was not so lenient with the angels who rose up against heaven, and even the story about the days of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, God is a loving God, but as Peter points out, those incidences of rebellion and disregard for God’s laws were not tolerated. And we probably all know well that Mothers, too have their limits, and when they set them it is with the safety and well being of their children in mind.

Now of the three passages we read today, I think the text in John is the easiest to relate to the actions and the love of a mother. This chapter is part of that long narrative in John about the final night Jesus is with the disciples before he is betrayed and arrested. Chapter 13 begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, then there is the last supper and in this chapter Jesus tells his disciples that he is going back to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. What a wonderful promise. He was going back to his home, to get a place ready for them and then he promises to return again to bring them to that house to live with him. Now it didn’t happen immediately and not all at once, but in their order each of the disciples was welcomed home to the place that was prepared just for them. And the great thing about this story is that it is meant for each of us in just that same way.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. How many of us have gotten our homes ready for someone to come and stay? At our place it becomes a major operation, especially at this time of year when the dust has piled so high on some of the shelves that I can write my name in them, then there are the dust bunnies who are big enough and old enough to be named and demand pet beds, and we won’t even discuss the windows. My mother used to tell me she always knew my house because it was the only one on the block whose windows were not washed.

We will likely have all the children at our place for a short time in June and I am already getting nervous about how we will get everyone into a room let alone into a bed that isn’t piled high with junk. I have to admit that my grand plan to eliminate some of the clutter from the house around the time of Lent fell by the way side after the first bag went out the door. Hopefully this summer there will be a little more cooperation from my hoarder self on this business of letting go.

Considering the sort of preparation we as humans go through to invite someone to a stay over visit, or the act of helping someone move into a new or different home, it is sort of hard to consider Christ telling us that he is going to prepare a place for us to live. This really doesn’t strike me as God’s work, to provide a home for us, yet that is what Jesus promises. “If it were not so, would I have told you…” If we as human parents stress and fuss and work to provide a place for our children to come to stay or even help them to find a spot to live, how much more do you suppose Christ has worked to provide a home for us, a place for us to join him in paradise?

Now the story from Acts almost seems like it should just be ignored in this discussion about honoring our mothers. How can we possibly see any sort of nurturing, mothering, loving story in this horrible account of a group of people turning into a mob that stones a man to death, and what about the man who stands quietly by holding their coats and allows them to do it? The horror of it just seems too much to even think about. The thread here comes from the words of Stephen as he is being stoned when he looks to the heavens and prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” His final words were much like those of Jesus who in his final words said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the same sort of love that mothers have for their children.

OK, yes there are times when we want to shake our fist and give them the Peanuts gang version of Lucy, “I will give you five reasons” and there are those exceptions of mothers who are more involved with things that are harmful–alcohol and drug abuse and such, but when you think of a loving and a caring, nurturing mother, you hear the same sort of words that Jesus and Stephen used in forgiving the mobs.

Mothers and fathers both want what is best for their children. They want a life that is better than the one they had, but the best that any of us can give our children is the story of Christ’s love for us. I am sure we would all agree that the best we can do for our children is not just to give them our love, but to give them the opportunity to share in God’s love.

And if any of you have not had a call or a card or a notice from someone today, let me say to all of you Happy Mother’s Day from me. In looking up the word mother I found such definitions as a woman exercising control, influence or authority, someone who is the origin, source or protector, to that I would add someone who nurtures or cares for another, regardless of gender. As I look around our congregation, I see, so many examples of ways we act as those descriptions for each other and it doesn’t matter our gender. Maybe that is who we are as a congregation, maybe that is what it means to be the church for each other. As we leave today on this beautiful Mothers’ Day, let’s remember to be that person who loves others just as Jesus did. And let’s reach out to others as our mothers would reach out to us. Amen!

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